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How to Teach Drawing to Children

How to Teach Drawing to Children

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Published by: DisforDaniel on Sep 08, 2010
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03/03/2013

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How to Teach Drawing to Children
 by Marvin Bartel
This essay was inspired by an Australian mother whose son, age eight, was feelingdiscouraged and wanted help in learning to draw better. She wanted to know how to helphim. Observation drawing provides the method of choice. Of course observationdrawing is not the only form of good drawing practice, but it is often the best way todevelop drawing skills. Drawing from remembered experiences and drawing based onimagination are good to develop those aspects of thinking. Copy work drawing is notencouraged, but only tolerated if it is self-initiated. Many self-taught artists have learned by copying because it was the only alternative they knew about. However, copywork isnot the best way to learn to draw actual objects, animals, scenes, and people.For an attractively printed version of a previous version of this article with additional photographs, consider ordering a copy of the March, 2007 issue of HomeschoolingHorizons Magazine.
Drawing and Children
C
hildren who know me sometimes ask me how to draw better.Many children do not know that artists have learned to draw by doing observation-drawing practice. They often assume that you can draw or you can't. Of course this istrue, but it is also true that nearly anybody can learn to draw at any age. Many childrenfeel inferior about their own ability to draw. Too often no teacher or adult has everhelped them learn to make a proper observation. Most teachers have not beeneducated about teaching drawing. Some generalist teachers even say, "That's okay, Ican't draw either." This is the opposite of good motivation. They would never dare say,"That's okay, I can't read and write. I just don't have the talent for it."I explain that drawing ability comes from practice. I call it "practice" so it isn't asintimidating as final products. This essay explains some practice processes that lead tobetter drawing skills. Sometimes children want to develop their practice into moreelaborate finished work. I encourage their desire to finish some works, but I also affirmthe need to do lots of practice that does not have to be finished work. I explain it byusing music analogies. We practice piano a long time to learn some pieces. We don'tworry two much about mistakes while we are learning, but eventually it is good to play arecital. Then I give them some proven ways to practice and encourage them to make amany choices as possible as they learn to draw.I never draw to show a child how to draw do something.
 
If I would show a child how something is drawn, the child would get the idea that mydrawing is the answer. The child would think that her job is to copy my drawing. Lookingat my drawing is a very poor way to learn to see for yourself.I go over to the thing being observed. I run my finger slowly along the edge of the thing.While doing this, I encourage the child to begin drawing in the air (by pointing a fingertoward my finger) as preliminary practice following the edge contour slowly as my fingermoves. After practice in the air, the child practices on paper with a slow deliberatecontour while NOT looking at the paper.I never draw on the child's paper. Learning to see is done by studying the thing, animal,or person being drawn - not by getting the teacher to correct the work. The studentshould own the whole process and product.I never ask a child to copy a picture made by me, by another artist, or by a camera. Ihave them practice from actual objects or models. When children do copy work for funon their own, I do not condemn them for this, but I do withhold compliments for copiedwork, and I withhold all encouragement related to copy work. I encourage them topractice from actual objects - never working from pictures.Eliciting a careful description from the studentWe cannot draw what we do not notice. Before starting I take extra time to discusssome details of a small area where the student will start. This gives focus, familiarity,and confidence. Visual information is useless unless you notice it.I give instruction in the form of open questions rather than directions. "How much of this edge is straight and how much is curved?" "How much longer is this side than thetop edge?" "What are the different lengths you get when you extend your arm andmeasure by holding the pencil across it in the air?" "How do the lengths compare?""Isn't this a silly line? Can you see how it wiggles?" If I use questions, it implies that theteacher will not be needed in the future. Once the student knows the questions, thestudent can practice alone. If I give commands, the student might not feel empoweredto work alone.Simplify but never dumb it downSometimes we start with a small part of something that would otherwise seem much totoo complex and overwhelming. Adding a bit at a time, I am often amazed at some of the elaborate drawings that a child can make. Think about the amazing thinking habitsthat are being fostered by this approach.Mistakes are normalI prepare them in advance for what to expect so that they can be pleased with whatworks rather than disappointed by what does not work. In blind contour line (drawingthe outer edge of objects without looking at the paper) I let them know that I do not
 
expect to get a better line, but I also expect that my line probably will not end up at theright place when it comes around to where it started. If it comes around and meets, itmeans that I just got lucky, or maybe I peeked at the paper (treat with humor). "Blind"contour drawing means drawing without looking at the paper, but only looking at theobject.Blinders as drawing helpersI use a large blinder card on our pencil so we cannot see what is being drawn. Igenerally allow looking at the paper only when the pencil is stopped (when it is placedto start a new line). While the pencil moves, I do not allow looking down at the paper,but only looking at the edge of the object being observed and drawn. It is good to movethe pencil very slowly and deliberately so that each little change of direction, notch,bump, zigzag, etc. can be included (as slow as and ant crawling). Not every drawingexperience needs to be blind contour practice, but some regular practice using blindcontour is a good way to discipline the mind to develop the skill of observation.With young children I often encourage them to use a blinder helper while they practiceall the lines of the edges without concern for making a picture. This practice session istheir preparation prior to drawing a picture on another paper or elsewhere on the samepaper. This part is simply a jumble of practice lines. After this rehearsal, when they drawthe picture, all the lines are already familiar and easier.Viewfinders as framing helpersA viewfinder, which can be a simple 2x2 inch empty slide frame, is useful to view thescene. For drawing, the viewfinder can be a piece of 8x10 inch cardboard with arectangle cut out as a window about 3x4 inches.This student is using a viewfinder taped on a stick placed to frame some sunflowers. Inthe second view she is adding tomatoes seen from her position as she looks through theviewfinder window.This can be held at arms length or closer to help the student decide what to include inthe drawing. We use it the same way you would frame a picture with a cameraviewfinder. It can zoom closer (bending the arm) to give a wide angle. It can zoom out tocreate a telephoto framing (holding it with an extended arm). The window in theviewfinder (also called isolator) makes it easier for the student decide on what toinclude, how to arrange things, how to fit the paper, which way to turn the paper, andhow large to make things in a drawing. A more advanced viewfinder might have blackthread taped across the window to form a grid through which to view the scene, stilllife, animal, or person that is being observed.MistakesMost of us need to get more comfortable with mistakes. I do not point out mistakesbecause the effect is not helpful. It works better to emphasize the things that are

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